I watched the new 21 Jumpstreet this week. It was alright. Ice Cube--"You are here because you some Justin Beaver, Molly Cyrus looking motherfuckers"--was hilarious.
Anyway, I took that as an excuse to rock Death Certificate, an album that tears me all kinds of ways. Death Certificate has the distinction of probably being one of the most racist hip-hop album in history, and one of the greatest. And yet, I feel like the racism is functional, like it reflects a mentality of particular time. (L.A. after before the riots.) And yet again, given Cube's embrace of the Nation of Islam, I can't really tell where the rapper Ice Cube begins and O'Shea Jackson ends. It's an interesting debate coming off our conversation about comedy this morning.
Either way, there are moments of incredible transcendence on the album--be it the satirical "Summer Vacation," the grim "Alive on Arrival" or the arresting "Bird In Hand" which is one of my 10 favorite hip-hop song's ever. "Bird In Hand" is one of those joints that I heard and thought, "I want to do what that guy's doing." "Color-Blind" is another.
Cube released "Color-Blind" on the tail-end of hip-hop's "increase the peace" era. It is a posse cut in the mold of "Self-Destruction" and "All In The Same Game." But I would argue, that as a song, "Color-Blind" is many times better than both. Instead of sloganeering and position papers, you get actual narrative. This part always caught me:
I grab my gat out the glove
Do these fools got a problem with me?
Or do they got love?
So when the light turns green, I don't bone out
I wanna see what these Black Men are all about.
That last line--with the specific emphasis on "Black Men"--is the sort of thing you would usually see employed by "conscious" rappers like Chuck D. Cube, of course, had his own consciousness. But something about it coming out of the mouth of one of the pioneers of gangsta rap gave it an extra level of irony.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.